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Toiling with two Youngstowns

Published: Sun, October 3, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

The horrific deaths of Vivian Martin and Thomas Repchic erode the vibrancy of the Youngstown rebound — Youngstown Business Incubator, Youngstown State University football, V&M Star, Youngstown 2010, etc. — if you believe there is a rebound.

Many people don’t.

To many people, it’s “Youngstown 20-When?”

You can read those people on the Vindy.com message boards. They’re usually the first ones to douse a good headline with a sobering tale of life in the ’hood.

And when there’s a tragic headline — as we’ve seen in the past week or so — the citizens are on our phone lines with more sobering tales.

They talk of making calls to the police about drug houses — and seeing no response.

Then there’s a call about a home being robbed — and police telling them to come down to the police station to fill out a report.

One friend called me and talked about the ongoing effort to move a parent out of the city. After years of refusal, the decision was easy this summer after a home robbery that involved a face-to-face encounter with the intruder.

This is in addition to a couple of car thefts and a block that’s seen other neighbors simply walk away from their homes.

Another call resulted in the story you see on the front page of today’s Vindicator: a family struck by seeing their childhood home reduced to something that could have been used in the film “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Add to these phone calls the break-in reports tied to Mr. Repchic’s home just hours after he was slain, and another break-in at the home of a witness to the Repchic incident carried out by the father of the alleged assailant.

It’s fair to wonder: “Which Youngstown am I a part of?”

The truth is, we are each a part of both.

Both Youngstowns live, breath, blossom and burn.

Flip over to today’s page A16, and you can read Bertram de Souza calling for something close to martial law. He was burning this week, and his views represent many, many people.

But reality, too, is that here’s what’s also gone on this week: In Maine, a husband killed his wife. Four teens in Boston killed a man they had only intended to rob. In Minneapolis, a teen was executed mob-style in the back of a car. In Albany, a man hired someone to kill his unborn child by stabbing the pregnant mother.

And there’s Mr. Repchic and Ms. Martin.

There are two Youngstowns. There’s not just that decrepit place where those who can leave have, and those who’ve stayed, well, good luck.

In coping with that one, you have to retain hope that through the grime, the crime, the Martins and the Repchics, a better light can burn through.

You have to be realistic about the problems.

Community activists talk about land banks and food deserts. City workers talk about landlord registrations, and city council members talk about DUI checkpoints, cars parked on lawns and driver’s- license checks.

This is nice — if you didn’t have city blocks with fewer humans than Columbiana County back roads, and little old ladies bunkered in their homes and a “shrinking city” that hasn’t shrunk at all in terms of road miles patrolled.

Close the blocks, condense the city, and protect the most vulnerable.

There is hope where there’s focus. Refocus and regroup.

On Friday night, I was at the Poland High football game — a home game vs. Chaney High School, located on Youngstown’s West Side.

Earlier this year, I’d seen Austintown Fitch fill the opposing bleachers; same when Hubbard came to play.

But on this Friday night, Chaney’s players and coaching staff on the sideline outnumbered their fans in the stands.

If a community is measured by its support of high school football, there was not much to measure. In an urban setting, rules are different.

Chaney High School’s student body is 80 percent minority and 82 percent impoverished. And about 98 percent not in attendance Friday.

By halftime, the team was losing to Poland 28-0. (The final was, mercifully, just 31-0.)

At halftime, the Chaney band loaded onto the field and made their way across to the packed Poland stands. Chaney has a band, for sure. But for comparison sake, Poland’s band had more tuba players than Chaney had band members (OK, possibly exaggerated, but not by much.)

The band’s first number received soft, polite applause from the Poland crowd; more obligatory applause than an ovation.

By the second song, “Word Up,” the band had the crowd’s attention. They nailed it. When Chaney exited the field to tunes from the movie “Drumline,” a crowd of a couple thousand Polanders knew that Chaney had game — regardless of the scoreboard.

Through the grime and crime, a light can burn through.

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